Christian van Dijk is unflappably Dutch. He wears slim European suits tailored to his slender runner’s frame. His hair, thin on top, is a carefully managed stubble. When a visitor spills a full cup of coffee on his company furniture, he just smiles and continues with a story as if nothing happened.
But seven red binders sitting upright on his desk pose a clear source of consternation. They contain thousands of pages, each emblazoned with swarms of disorderly digits, impenetrable to all but the most tech-savvy of readers.
Mr. van Dijk has read and reread each binder several times as he prepares to defend Aydin Coban, the 35-year-old Dutch man charged in relation to the online torment of Vancouver teen Amanda Todd, but even he strains to describe exactly what all the numbers mean and how they fit together.
“In the beginning, none of this made sense to me,” he says, thumbing through the pages in his Utrecht office. “There are so many numbers, abbreviations and difficult words. Now I understand it, but I need the help of a computer expert to help make sense of everything.”
He’s hardly alone in his puzzlement. The British police agency involved with the case called it “extremely complex” and alleges Mr. Coban used some of “the most advanced techniques available to target his victims and in an attempt to hide himself.”
But somewhere in the digital labyrinth is the story of two lives, both lived largely online, that entwined briefly and, for one, ended tragically. Amanda Todd sought affection and treated her onscreen realm like a stage and a confessional. Aydin Coban, according to police, traded in deception and anonymity, something he would succeed at for years before his arrest in January.
Both online and around the southern Netherlands city where he grew up, the name Aydin Coban draws little recognition. Until last year, he was an unknown entity among police as well. The Globe and Mail has learned that it was the security team in charge of safeguarding the world’s largest online social network, Facebook, that finally led investigators to Mr. Coban.
“I don’t think the police made this case,” says Mr. van Dijk, staring at evidence bearing Facebook Security letterhead. “I think Facebook made this case. They put it all together.”
Facebook declined to comment on any involvement in the Todd case, offering only a general statement. “In the rare instance when this illegal behaviour is detected in our community,” says a spokesman, “we have strict guidelines for working with law enforcement to bring suspected criminals to justice and keep Facebook a safe place."
If Mr. Coban committed the crimes of which he’s accused in Holland – production and distribution of child pornography, indecent assault, fraud, computer intrusion and others – the involvement of Facebook in his arrest would seem fitting. It was on the social network in late 2010 that Amanda Todd’s life first began to unravel.
She was in Grade 7 at the time and lived life through her laptop, singing Adele and Christina Aguilera songs for friends and admirers, sometimes dancing. She was playful, talkative. During one ill-fated session in her webcam chat room hosted on BlogTV, a user convinced her to expose her breasts. Somewhere among the more than 150 users in the chat room that day was a ‘capper’.
Cappers are an insidious strain of online lurker who lie in wait in chat rooms and social networks and incite other users to expose flesh so they can save the images for posterity. They use the saved image to extort more images or information or even money from their targets. Some do it for a thrill, others for money, yet others for bragging rights among the tight-knit capper community. On this day, someone capped Amanda’s topless image. Soon the images were posted to a porn site and a link sent to her Facebook friends.
Over the next two years, the tormentors would return. The documents on Mr. van Dijk’s desk point to one Facebook user in particular, Tyler Boo, who threatened to distribute more images of her unless she provided more “shows” onscreen.
By the fall of 2011, partially nude images of Amanda re-emerged online. The RCMP warned her parents she should be kept off Facebook and other sites for her own safety. Their restrictions didn’t stick.